Pathogenic CD4 T cells in type 1 diabetes recognize epitopes formed by peptide fusion

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Science  12 Feb 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6274, pp. 711-714
DOI: 10.1126/science.aad2791

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T cells target peptide combos

One of the enduring mysteries of autoimmunity is the identity of the specific proteins targeted by autoimmune T cells. Delong et al. used mass spectrometry to elucidate the peptide targets of autoimmune T cells isolated from a mouse model of type 1 diabetes. T cells targeted hybrid peptides formed by the covalent linking of a peptide derived from pro-insulin to other peptides derived from proteins found in pancreatic beta cells. T cells isolated from the pancreatic islets of two individuals with type 1 diabetes also recognized such hybrid peptides, suggesting that they may play an important role in driving disease.

Science, this issue p. 711


T cell–mediated destruction of insulin-producing β cells in the pancreas causes type 1 diabetes (T1D). CD4 T cell responses play a central role in β cell destruction, but the identity of the epitopes recognized by pathogenic CD4 T cells remains unknown. We found that diabetes-inducing CD4 T cell clones isolated from nonobese diabetic mice recognize epitopes formed by covalent cross-linking of proinsulin peptides to other peptides present in β cell secretory granules. These hybrid insulin peptides (HIPs) are antigenic for CD4 T cells and can be detected by mass spectrometry in β cells. CD4 T cells from the residual pancreatic islets of two organ donors who had T1D also recognize HIPs. Autoreactive T cells targeting hybrid peptides may explain how immune tolerance is broken in T1D.

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